Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Reviews From an HBN (Outlander - Diana Gabaldon)

What's happened to me?! I'm the consummate fantasy nerd, reading this, of all things!

To be fair, though, this has some fantasy elements to it...

The year is 1945. Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon--when she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient stone circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach--an "outlander"--in a Scotland torn by war and raiding Highland clans in the year of Our Lord...1743.

Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire is catapulted into intrigues and dangers that may threaten her life...and shatter her heart. For here she meets James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, and becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire...and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.


 So I finally broke down and decided to read Outlander, then I finally got lucky enough to spot it on a shelf at Goodwill. Then I enjoyed it enough to read it twice in a row.

Let me start with what turned me off, as that's a shorter list. Time travel stories aren't really my thing (unless there happens to be a Time-Turner involved), and it seems Diana Gabaldon has an even more chaotic approach than usual in her rationalization of the whens and the whys and the what-times. The detail I'm picking on is that, Claire's marriage to Jamie is valid because her marriage to Frank is technically still two hundred years into the future, but if all time runs side-by-side (and I'm assuming that's what she's getting at, what with Claire going on about how she's been gone from 1945 for such and such amount of time) then that means she's still married to Frank and her marriage to Jamie isn't legal after all...maybe the Doctor can figure this one out for me, because I'm confused.

And...over eight hundred pages? I'm torn here, because my instincts as a writer say that this thing could have been heaps and bunches shorter by cutting out anything and everything that did nothing to further the plot. But then, I get all mixed up because this doesn't really have a plot, per se. And on top of it all, my sensibilities as a reader wouldn't hear of cutting anything out, because I liked it all. I spent half the book in titters at all the humor, the last quarter in near-tears because of the turn of events, and all the rest of it racing as fast as I could onto the next page because I was dying to know what was coming.

Claire had her moments of being just that irritating, but what can I say? She dropped the F-bomb in front of a total stranger within the first few pages and later cussed a man out for daring to get himself injured on her watch. She was bound to win me over eventually. She's kind of like one of those people you're not really sure why you're friends with, but you can't imagine not being friends with them anyway.

And then there's James Fraser...dear God and Jesus at Olive Garden, I've become one of those females that swooned after him the instant he arrived on the scene. It's easy to consider him the stereotypical romantic hero, but he really isn't. Which gives me cause for relief, to be honest, or I'd lose all my self-respect entirely. He's mainly responsible for all the aforementioned humor, and most of it is my favorite kind of bawdy, raunchy humor, God bless him. And that sentiment goes double for his genuine love and affection for Claire, and just for being so bloody amazing. The best part? He's flawed! He's realistic! He's the perfect guy, and he's not even perfect!

Someone stop me, I'm going in circles...

The sex, once it started happening, felt like it hardly stopped happening. But Ms. Gabaldon handled it in a way that it wasn't just Jamie and Claire doing it for the sake of it, but achieved some kind of growth through it. It felt like they were actually coming closer together, emotionally and spiritually as well as physically, so points for that. And for keeping the dialogue interesting! It was never even too explicit for all that they were constantly hopping into bed or hiding in a convenient stand of trees or haystack, and that spells accomplishment to me! I do, however, have to ask if the whole episode with Jonathan Randall at Wentworth prison is really felt like one of those things that didn't really do much for the plot and it was almost overdone, but I'll live with it. It gives Randall complexity as a villain, which is always a good thing.

Speaking of Randall, that didn't quite impress me, either, making him a counterpart of Frank. I get it, it adds to the emotional train wreck for Claire to be confronted with her beloved husband's doppelganger only for him to turn out a sadist, was too easy! What better way to make her turn to Jamie than to make Frank somehow seem less appealing by extension?

And did I happen to mention that Jamie is so awesome? I did? OK then, moving on...

I can see the haters' point about where this book is lacking, but I can also pose an argument in defense of it. So I guess that means I'm a fan, then, doesn't it? I couldn't help myself! It was exactly the kind of escape I love in a book, no matter what the genre! For crying out loud, I read it again right after I finished it the first time, and that's explanation enough in itself!

Your humble book nerd,

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